Time Warner CEO Questioned About Obama Ties, CNN Gun Coverage

Jeff Bewkes - Warner Bros. Premiere Of "V For Vendetta" - 2006
Evan Agostini/Getty Images

At the conglomerate's annual shareholder meeting, Jeff Bewkes also touted the company's financial and stock performance and its outlook.

Time Warner chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes at the entertainment conglomerate's annual shareholder meeting on Thursday touted the company's performance and outlook and answered questions about the objectivity of CNN on the issue of gun control and the company's relationship with the White House.

The hour-long event took place at the CNN Center's Omni Hotel in Atlanta and was webcast. Bewkes also lauded the strong financial results achieved in 2012 and said he believes the company has never produced "quite as much great storytelling" as last year.

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One shareholder suggested that CNN wasn't always doing a great job at representing facts neutrally on key issues, such as gun violence, given that pundits in favor of tighter gun controls have been featured, while the network declined to take gun ads, even though Warner Bros. movies include gun violence. "It's not easy [because of] different views people have" to satisfy everyone's expectations, Bewkes said. "I take it as an interesting point.... We'll be alert to that." He also told the speaker that CNN boss Jeff Zucker was in attendance and was "hearing you too." He added: "Any viewer and any shareholder should make us aware if you think there is bias on any issue."

Another person asked about TW's apparently close relationship with the White House, citing the fact that First Lady Michelle Obama was at the Oscars to present the best picture award to Argo from TW's Warner Bros., Time magazine named President Obama the man of the year and other facts, including that the Obamas attended TNT's annual "Christmas in Washington" party.

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Bewkes said that Turner organizes that event every year regardless of who is president and invites current office holders. He also explained that the Academy picks who presents the Oscars and said none of the other facts were any cause for concern or signs of undue closeness to the Obama White House.

During his prepared remarks, Bewkes had highlighted that TW's stock "significantly outperformed" the broad-based S&P 500 stock index last year -- with a 74 percent gain, compared with a 26 percent increase for the index.

He called the spin-off of Time Inc., which is planned to take place by the end of 2013, the "next step in the evolution" of TW. "This is the best structure for both Time Inc. and for Time Warner," he said, allowing each to chart their own strategic course and attract their own shareholder base.

TW will be "the leading pure-play video content company" after the spin-off and be "even more strategically focused," Bewkes said. And Time Inc. will be positioned to put a spotlight on its assets and performance. AOL and Time Warner Cable, which TW previously spun off, both have seen their stocks outperform the S&P 500 as well, he pointed out.

Bewkes then lauded the performance of TW's various divisions, starting off with the Turner TV networks unit, which hosted the shareholder meeting. The TV networks unit will contribute roughly 80 percent of TW's earnings after the Time Inc. spin-off, he highlighted.

Discussing Warner Bros., Bewkes said the studio and the whole company were "extremely proud" of Oscar winner Argo and also lauded its other output. Argo became the company's fourth film to win an Academy Award for best picture in the past decade, proving that TW's scale attracts the best talent in the industry, Bewkes said.

Showing a trailer for Man of Steel, the TW CEO also lauded the Warner slate for the current year, including The Hangover Part III and The Great Gatsby, which he said has become "a bona fide hit."

During the Q&A session, one shareholder asked about TW's stock grants to top executives and why  all employees do not get stock. Bewkes said that except for top managers, staffers tend to feel they do not have a lot of influence over the company's stock price and "don't value [stock grants] as much as cash and cash bonuses we instead give them."

In the meeting, shareholders elected all TW board nominees. On an advisory basis, they also approved Time Warner's 2012 executive compensation and its 2013 stock incentive plan.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com
Twitter: @georgszalai